Police investigation into the double murder of Dr. Gary Swank and islander Mario Graniel stalls; main suspect believed dead

The last murders registered on Ambergris Caye occurred on June 23, 2019, involving local tour guide Mario Graniel and an American National Dr. Gary Paul Swank, while on a fly-fishing trip off the north-west coast of the island. The shocking double murder threatened the tourism industry, prompting the Belize Police Department to establish a special security unit on the island. Initial investigations led to the custody of several suspects, but no one was ever charged. Seven months after, the latest update provided by police indicates that the investigation has come to a halt after the main suspect is believed to have been killed in Guatemala.

Commissioner of Police (ComPol), Chester Williams was in San Pedro Town on Thursday, February 6th and spoke with The San Pedro Sun on the matter. According to him, they had recovered the murder weapon from a house in San Pedro and had compiled enough evidence to make an arrest and charge. “We had narrowed down the investigation to one person,” said Williams. “But when we were about to move in on that person, he was reported missing from Benque Viejo del Carmen Town and from what we were made aware of, he was taken across to Guatemala. He was apparently killed in an area we have not yet confirmed.” Williams said that although there might have been other conspirators, it will be difficult to tie them to the crime without the main suspect, thus, the investigation is at standstill.

More in the San Pedro Sun

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Authorities in Belize believe top suspect in Roanoke doctor's killing is dead

Authorities in Belize say the top suspect in last summer’s killing of a Carilion Clinic doctor is believed to be dead.

Dr. Gary Swank was on vacation when he and his Belize guide, Mario Graniel , were found fatally shot on a lagoon while fishing in the town of San Pedro on June 23.

On Feb. 6, Commissioner Chester Williams of the Belize Police Department told The San Pedro Sun the unnamed prime suspect in the case had been killed in Guatemala.

Williams told the newspaper they’d recovered the murder weapon from a house on the island town and had enough evidence to charge the suspect.

“When we were about to move in on that person, he was reported missing ... and from what we were made aware of, he was taken across to Guatemala. He was apparently killed in an area we have not yet confirmed,” he told the Sun.

The paper also reported that Williams said although there might have been other conspirators, it will be difficult to link them to the case without the main suspect, bringing the investigation to a standstill.

“We did several things with a view to ascertain if, in fact, the murder [of the suspect] did occur, but we cannot confirm or deny,” he told the Sun, also adding that if the main suspect is found alive, he will be charged.

Swank, 53, arrived in the Central American country with his wife and young children just a day before his death.

Police believe Graniel “had a misunderstanding with one of the notorious gang figures in San Pedro,” Williams told reporters following the incident.

Authorities also told local reporters they believed Swank was an innocent bystander and not the target in the shooting.

His sister, Melanie Wilhelm, said she and her family had not received any updates about her brother’s case in months.

Although initially in contact with U.S. authorities, she said communications had dissolved recently, as the family’s focus has been on mourning her brother’s death.

“We didn’t even know their main suspect was deceased until someone from your paper I think tried to contact us,” Wilhelm said Saturday afternoon.

“And nobody from the local authorities [in Belize] has ever contacted us.”

She said she’s not convinced that Belize officials have completed a thorough investigation, and she believes authorities want to minimize the damage the murder has had on tourism in the area, which the Sun has indicated has been an issue since the double homicide.

In its Feb. 6 article, the Sun wrote:

“The shocking double murder threatened the tourism industry, prompting the Belize Police Department to establish a special security unit on the island. Initial investigations led to the custody of several suspects, but no one was ever charged.”

Wilhelm also said it seems unlikely to her that only one person was involved in the incident, and she hopes the investigation continues until someone is brought to justice for the crime.

“I don’t think it’s fair that they get to live freely when someone killed my brother. ... Now that some time has passed, I’d like some answers,” she said.

Roanoke Times